tv Tavis Smiley PBS December 13, 2010 12:00pm-12:30pm EST
tavis: good evening from los angeles, i'm tavis smiley. first up tonight, a conversation with oscar-winning filmmaker danny boyle following the success of his film, "slumdog millionaire." he has a new film, "127 hours." the film tells the real-life story of a stranded hiker played by james franco. also, acclaimed author, reza aslan, is here. he's out with a new anthology, it's called "tablet & pen." we're glad you've joined us. that's coming up right now. >> all i know is his name is james and he needs extra help with his reading.
>> i'm james. yes. >> to everyone making a difference, you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance us proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: please welcome danny boyle back to this program. the oscar-winning director of films like "slumdog millionaire" and "trainspotting" is in the middle of the conversation about
tavis: i was just whispering to you in that clip -- that clip is a good example of what i was just sharing with you. this movie really made me appreciate -- we see these categories for the academy awards for sound and music score and those kinds of things, that may not be as fancy as best picture, but that scene right there underscores how important sound and music are to a film. franco didn't say a word in that clip, but you can feel the energy. you can hear the sounds and the music. talk to me about that as a director. >> 70% of a movie is sound. you don't think it is, but it is. if you take the sound off, it's just -- forget it. it's amazing the way it develops the film and the character. like in this film, there's no one there for him to talk to. all he has are these possessions. and things like we take for granted, like a water bottle and a burrito, suddenly become everything. they become almost of religious importance to him as he tries to
spread out the water for the time he's trapped. he emphasize that with the sound, and you use the sounds of water through the film. they kind of trace it through the film. and it drives him mad, you know. because he only wants more water because of it. and you use it. you can use it to tease the audience in that way as well and make them feel dry. that's the other thing. you can use sound to make things feel dry. you can dry everything up. it's rust ly, like it's dry, and you start to feel like he's feeling, which is kind of a tongue-swelling need for water. tavis: as a director, you realized all this, you figured all this out before you went into the project. you knew that it was really going to rely heavily on these kinds of factors, or as you get into it you start to figure out this is not what i thought it would be? >> you discover it as you go along. you hope that you've made the right decision, because some stories deepen as you do them, and other ones you kind of
discover they blossom quite quickly. this one got deeper as we went into it. the guy i wrote it with, simon, who wrote "slumdog millionaire," we talked about how personal this film was for us. because although it's about this guy who gets trapped, it's a factual episode what happened. tavis: true story. >> it's a true story. but it felt very personal to us in the way that he grows to appreciate people. he has 127 hours in which he he grows to appreciate people in his life, people he's taken for granted. and both myself and the other writer felt very deeply bit. tavis: and the true story is? >> a 27-year-old intel engineer turned his back on a promising career and embraced the wilderness. adventurer, really. he goes into this canyon in a remote part of utah and he has a slight fall and gets trapped by
a boulder. his right arm gets trapped. he lands standing up. and everything is in place except for the fact that he can't move his right arm. he spends the next 27 days trying to get out of that, doing everything he can to get out of that. eventually he has to amputate his right arm with his pocket knife that he has to get him out of there. but what's extraordinary about the story is that the redemption you feel, having gone through this, is deeply earned. you feel like you've earned it. feel-good films -- i've done one of them, "slumdog millionaire" was a feel-good film. but there's nothing easy about this. this is deeply earned, this journey that you go on. it's a wonderful use of the intensity of cinema, to take you somewhere where you would rarely -- you'd never want to go yourself. but it makes you appreciate some of the things that are important in your own life as well, like the value of other people that don't give up, never give up. we will all face things that we
might despair sometimes, but never, ever give up, because he achieves rebirth. life is given back to him at the last possible moment. it's extraordinary. tavis: i'm fascinated by your phrase that he earns redemngs this film. >> yes, he does -- redemption in this film. >> yes, he does. there's a wonderful phrase by mccarthy, and he says he achieves -- grace rescues men when all other resources have been exhausted. and he has done everything to get out of here, and he has this vision. he started to hallucinate, which you do when you dehydrate. and he sees this child. and he knows it's not jesus or mohammed or buddha, he just knows it's his child in the future. he's 27. he's not a guy thinking about settling down, having a family or anything like that. but he knows that's his child in the future. and this child gives him a way out of this place that he's in, this hell that he's in. and it's extraordinary.
so it comes out, if not physical courage, it becomes a spiritual, a grace-like exception, that he has a role to play in life, much more important than these adventures and his conquests. there's something much more important. like any parent, it's like selflessness. he has to give over his self so someone else and he realizes he has to live for this child. in the beginning of this film he's unthinkable, he manages to get out of it and he lives. tavis: this film kind of reminded me, though, in terms of the acting -- it was a tom hanks film. "castaway." you know how good this guy really is. ease carrying the film all by himself. it's on an island. you know the story. >> yes. tavis: you love hank for how he's doing it all by himself. franco is the same way in this film. this guy is in this hole, his
arm is trapped and the only thing is, he's working with himself. tell me more about how you direct that. i'm just fascinated by, when you're directing one guy, basically, and that's it. >> well, the thing -- like tom hanks had a football, didn't he, that he called wilson. tavis: a soccer ball. >> a soccer ball that he calls wilson. tavis: exactly. >> well, in our case he had a video camera with him and he left a series of messages to his loved ones. every day he left a message. that was our ammunition. and what he can do is he can talk directly to the camera. he's leaving these messages, and you can go inside the camera and literally look at this guy who knows he's dying. he wants to leave messages to these people to apologize for the way he's been in his life, that he hasn't appreciated people as much as he knows that he should have. it's wonderful and moving. and he leans in toward redemption. but there's a journey he has to go on in his heart to find himself to be a better man,
really. and it's only then he'll get out. he can't get out at the beginning when it's all about his power and his might and his achievements. none of that will help him, all those skills. it's only when he has this change of heart that he will actually get out of there. tavis: i was teasing you about the fact that this guy, franco, he's on the cover everywhere. he's hosting the academy awards this year, he and ann hath away. you cannot avoid him. all these james dean comparisons. i raise that obviously because he's a fine actor. but how do you know the kind of actor you need for that kind of role? >> you need somebody who's good at comedy. not a comedian. tavis: i didn't expect you to say that. >> you need a serious actor who's good at comedy. remember when deniro did king of comedy and it was like weirdly
funny? you need an actor like that. i had seen james do some of the serious stuff, but then i saw him do a film which was hilarious. when are you going to dominate, you're talking about hanks in "castaway" or him in this, you have to have a whole range of emotions. because you're setting the agenda the there's no other characters walking in. you're creating the tone and rhythm and you need that kind of guy. you don't know until you make the film whether he's going to achieve it or not. but we had a hope that james would be able to pull it off. tavis: you mentioned "slumdog millionaire" and "trainspotting." as a director, what made you do this? what attracted you to this script, this story line? >> i read his book and i could see it. it's funny, you don't always get that. but i could just see it in front of my eyes. people say, is it like you would imagine it would be? and you forget what you saw when you made the film. it becomes what it is. but i could see it very clearly.
when you get that feeling, it doesn't matter how unappetizing the prospect of the film would be -- and it was very difficult to make the film -- you should go with that, really, because then you can come out and persuade people to come with you. you have a vision of how it should be and you can persuade people to come and share that vision with you. tavis: when you say difficult to make, you mean by that what? difficult to make in what way? in terms of the financing, the shooting, what do you mean? >> both. the financing -- obviously it's a challenging one for a studio to get behind. tavis: why? >> well, because -- tavis: you've got danny boyle. >> i remember describing it to them and he said, yes, so he's on his own for six days and then he cuts his arm off? they were like, ok. like they might be interested. he was obviously making it. we wanted to film in the real place and we do for a week, but it's so remote, you can't get there. you can't go there in the summer
because it's too hot and at any time it's a very dangerous place for a crew to be. people can fall, all sorts of things can happen. it's challenging. mentally it's difficult for james, i think, to feel that he'll just be in that one place for the whole time. tavis: how do you get him into character? you made him stay there for a while? >> yeah. i mean, he was there for six weeks. he'd walk in every day and just -- he couldn't sit down. he was in this canyon. that was a challenge for him. because you know what actors are like. you bounce off guests, actors bounce off each other, and he's got nobody. he's got a rock. once you've locked at a rock once, it's not going to change and give you very much more back. tavis: but i figure you're pleased with the final product. >> yes. i think it's a really great performance, personally. i know i would say that, but it's quite rare to see -- i learned a lot about acting from working with him. and they do -- these guys, they
do come of an age when they're in their 30's, i think, these young turks, where they just become -- they suddenly take a big stride forward in acting. and it's a very compelling performance and i'm very proud to be associated with it. tavis: i'm sure he feels the danny boyle is no slouch himself. the movie, in case you ain't seen franco everywhere, it's called "127 hours." it's quite a remarkable story based on a true story. starring james franco and this rock, directed by danny boyle. good to have you on. you're always welcome here. >> thank you. tavis: up next, religious scholar, reza aslan. stay with us. tavis: reza aslan has established himself as one of the brightest religious scholars of his generation, with books like "no god but god." his latest is an anthology
called "tablet & pen," literary landscapes from the modern middle east. reza, good to have you on the program. >> good to see you again. tavis: let me start with some news of the week, then we'll jump into the text of "tablet & pen." so roll back to sunday. sunday past. iran says to the world that they have made -- confesses to the world they've made advances with uranium. that's significant. not unexpected, but significant in part because those advances could lead to being able to fuel reactors, could lead to even fueling atom bombs. that's their announcement on sunday. they do that in advance of a meeting on monday, with six other world powers, where we are told at least 75% of that conversation was about nuclear issues. so just bring me up to date now as you see it where the world is in this, shall we say, song and dance with iran about nuclear issues. >> it's a good thing that we're talking about, that's an important thing. the security council plus germany have been wanting to get
back at the negotiating table with iran for quite sometime. but the bad news is is that iran wants to talk about everything except their nuclear program. they want to talk about regional cooperation. they want to talk about the sanctions issues. and it seems like the western powers want to talk about nothing more than the nuclear issue. so we have to, at a certain point, figure out what it is that we want from iran. do we want them to stop enripping uranium or not weaponize their program? i don't think we've figured this out yet, tavis, which is why these conversations keep going back and forth about well, you have to stop your enrichment program. if that's what we're pushing for, we're wasting our time. iran has made it clear that they have their-on-yellow cake now, they don't need to import it. nothing is going to stop the centrifuges from stopping running. but there is still plenty of room for discussion here about how to keep iran from weaponizing its program, if we can sit down with them and figure out why they would want a
nuclear weapon in the first place. no one asked this question. why does iran want a nuclear weapon? tavis: the answer to that would be, you think? >> well, iran has some very legitimate security concerns. from the american perspective there's no question that iran is a threat to our national security. except from the iranian perspective, we've encircled them with american troops. from the israeli perspective, no question iran is a threat to israel's national security. from the iranian perspective, israel is the one with the untold number of nukes pointed at tehran as we speak. so i think we need to take their paranoia a little bit seriously. barack obama, when he was running for president, he made an astounding claim when he said that when he becomes president, he's going to explicitly and publicly take regime change off the table, so that the conversation with iran could be had on an even keel. he's yet to do that. and we know now these
assassination attempts against iran's nuclear scientists. we have a clandestine program to force or compel some of their scientists to defect. it's called brain drain. the c.i.a.'s been putting it in place since 2005. and we've been selling all this faulty material, this booby-trapped material, which has resulted in derailing their program somewhat, delaying it somewhat. so iran's paranoia is somewhat justified and we need to have an adult conversation about what we're willing to give and what iran is willing to give. tavis: you mentioned president obama as a candidate. we are taking this tv show to washington in january, on the eve of the halfway point of the first term of this administration. so we're going to washington for a roundtable with major thinkers and influencers and policymakers, thought-leaders on this show. it's going to be a conversation spread over three nights in january talking to these persons
about where we are vis-a-vis the future of this country at the halfway mark, again, of president obama's first term. you'll hear more about that come january in our eighth season. i raise that to ask, since you mentioned his name, how his administration is conducting business, how are they doing this dance at the halfway mark of this first term with iran? are you hopeful, you're disappointed, you're skeptical? you are what? >> i know i have kind of a contrary opinion about this from a lot of my colleagues, but i think that when it comes to iran, president obama has played it perfectly. he has gotten very good advice from some of his iran experts. and i think if i were to sort of summarize that advice into a simple sentence, it would be stay out of it. this is the thing about iran. the economy is on the brink of collapse. ahmadinejad has the lowest approval ratings of any leader in that region, and that's pretty low. in fact, there were impeachment proceedings that went forward in
the parliament not too long ago in order to impeach him. everyone in iran recognizes that the targeted sanctions are starting to work. the international isolation, because of its nuclear program, is getting -- becoming unsustainable over there. so, in a sense, the more the president stays out of it, the more he allows the internal dynamics in iran to play their course, i think the more successful we'll be in getting iran to the point where we want them. tavis: for those confused, maybe, by your point, earlier you said that we should take ahmadinejad's paranoia more seriously on the one hand. now you're suggesting that we stay out of it. for those who see those two points as mutually exclusive, connect them for me. >> we're sitting across the table from the iranians, america and the united states. that's a good thing, except that in that discussion, whether we're talking about nukes or sanctions or whatever, the iranians know that the americans' ultimate goal is regime change. that's been our goal for three
decades. if we take that off the table, if we say to the iranians, look, we know you have some serious, some legitimate security concerns, we get it, and we're willing to address those concerns, then we're in a place where we can actually talk. now, the great irony of that is if we get there, then we remove the united states as the boogie man in the region. tavis: got it. but account u.s. really stay out of it, if what we are afraid of is that they are going to weaponize with these advances they're making, vis-a-vis uranium? >> we know, of course, our intelligence community has told us that iran is much further away from that pocket than we think. the israeli government disagrees, but they have for a decade been saying that iran is 10, 12 months away from nuclear weapons. it seems as though they're having much more difficulty with the technology and certainly all this clandestine stuff thattists talking about is actually having an effect. so iran is a bit further from having nuclear weapons than we
think it is association that gives us the opportunity to actually create the situation in which iran would want nuclear weapons. we have to address the fact of why do they want it, why are they so paranoid? that might give us an opening to allow them to have a robust nuclear program without the weapons. tavis: this new text suggests to me that you believe that literature and art can help shrink that divide. tell me why, tell me how, tell me about the book. >> you know this, tavis, i don't have to tell you that anti-muslim sentiment is at unprecedented levels in this country. and i think part of that has to do with the fact that precisely what you're saying. we tend to look at this region through the lens of religion and politics. but when you go to the middle east, what they are more concerned about is art and literature and music and film. i mean, they have some of the greatest artistic traditions in the history of the world. and it's something that
americans are just completely not familiar with. and this is particularly true with literature. this is a collection of poems, short stories, fiction, non-fiction, translated from arabic, turkish and persian, some for the very first time. some of these guys are titans of global literature, some of them a little less known. but what they provide is a unique window into the people of this region. not the leaders of the region. we're talking about a region of the world in which, you know, freedoms of press, freedoms of speech are suppressed, if not downright forbidden. so the only voices we ever hear in the united states are the voices of their leaders. and you know that there is a chasm that separates the leaders of this region from the people of the region. and the only opportunities that we have as americans to get to know the people on the street is through the arts, through the literature, through music, and that's what i'm trying to provide here. tavis: you talked about the leaders and the people, so that in this country the value that the people, the american people,
get from reading this book is what? and the value that our leaders, diplomats, will get from reading this book is what? >> very good question. both our leaders and our people see only a very limited view of this region. it's what we see on the media, etc., etc. maybe some people will watch some persian movies or maybe some people will listen to some arab pop music and they'll think, wow, these people are just like us. but for the most part we are separated from them by this sort of chasm of misunderstanding. and it's literature that breaks through those bounds, those barriers, and helps us to know each other as human beings. for our leaders, who tend to think that the saudi regime speaks for the saudis or the qatari region speaks for them -- especially with this wicky leak dump. well, of course the leaders want us to bomb iran. we're doing their dirty work for them. but what do the people want? that's what's important, because
the people are going to be the future of that region, the hope for stability and for reproachment and for communication. tavis: this is a labor of love for reza aslan. it's part of an anthology from words without borders, so all of the proceeds go to that program, not even to reza's pocket, so it is a labor of love from reza aslan. the new text is called "tablet & pen," literary landscapes from the modern middle east. reza, congratulations and good to have you back on the program. thanks for tuning in. until next time, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with former british prime minister gordon brown on his new memoir.
>> all i know is his name is james and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i'm james. yes. >> to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you. >> -- you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide is helping to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org--